Will Artificial Intelligence Make Email Marketers Obsolete?

Forrester Research says intelligent agents (cognitive marketing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, chatbots, etc.) will eliminate 6% of U.S. jobs by 2021.  But machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are already making inroads in marketing areas usually reserved for humans.
Is it time to push the panic button? Will marketer jobs as we know them today become obsolete in five, 10 or 15 years?
No on the panic button, but some marketing roles will clearly be at risk in the future.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will bring significant changes to marketing, but those changes will most likely come through automating repetitive tasks that machines can do more efficiently.
This will free up marketers to work on activities where the human touch is more reliable, such as planning, strategy, context and correction.
It's what I call "center-brain marketing," which unites the data-focused left brain with the creative right brain to fuel success in a future driven by machine learning.
What AI means for marketers
You've seen all the hype over self-driving cars, right? Marketing AI is similar. Both autonomous-driving technology for cars and marketing AI will handle the most routine, repeatable tasks -- but humans, at least for the near future, will set and correct the destination and keep their hands on or near the wheel.
A couple of definitions:
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is the blanket term. It's the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
  • Machine learning is a subset of AI that allows computers to learn the same way people do, only faster, without being explicitly programmed. It enables algorithms to improve through self-learning from data without any human intervention.
Machine learning is moving into the email technology mainstream, as you might have read about in industry publications like MediaPost -- or heard when you attend conferences where early adopter companies and technology vendors have been talking about it for a couple of years.
Subject lines are an excellent proving ground for AI and machine learning, because computers can figure out which combination of words, phrases and images in a subject line works best to meet the goals you set for a specific kind of email.
Machine learning can select content assets in emails for hyper-personalization, such as choosing which offers to send to different segments based on behavior and other data. More than dynamic content, these assets represent what works best for the brand.
Time to start sending out resumes?
Again, not yet.
AI/machine learning will likely take over jobs with these characteristics:
  • Are easily repeatable
  • Rely on using or matching data
  • Improve with learning
  • Rely on rules
See why subject-line writing is a natural fit? Now, the jobs most at risk:
  • Reporting
  • Customer/segment selection and analysis
  • Campaign automation
  • Testing/optimization
Even if your job is on this list, you don't need to panic unless it's the only thing you do. But for most marketers, these tasks take up most of their time but contribute the least to job satisfaction.
How much more could you get done if AI took over some or all of those tasks? Maybe you could finally have more time to develop new strategic plans or programs, integrate email with other channels, and more.
Embrace it now; profit from it later
One of my favorite quotes is from German economist Rudi Dornbusch: "In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could."
In other words, these vast changes will probably take longer than we think to change the marketing landscape, but they are coming, and when they take hold -- as with the transformation to mobile-first digital marketing -- it will happen quickly. 
Take time to understand the possibilities and get ahead of the changes, and look at your own work to see where you might need to upgrade your own skills so you don't get replaced by a robot.
Until next time, take it up a notch!
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